The Washington Nationals and franchise third baseman Ryan Zimmerman agreed on a contract extension Sunday morning guaranteed to keep Zimmerman in Washington through at least the 2019 season, multiple people familiar with the negotiations said. The Nationals will hold a press conference this afternoon to announce the deal.
The agreement contains a full no-trade clause and adds six years and $100 million to Zimmerman’s current contract, which runs through 2013, plus a team option year worth $24 million. In total, couting the two years on his current deal, Zimmerman will make $126 million over the next eight years or $150 million over the next nine years.
Zimmerman, then, will play in Washington until at leat 2019, and the Nationals control him through 2020, shortly after he turns 36.
The two sides decided they were close enough Saturday to extend Zimmerman’s Saturday deadline. The final hurdle incompleting the deal was no-trade protection for Zimmerman.
In June 2005, just a few months after the Nationals ceased operating the franchise out of trailers in the RFK Stadium parking lot, the team drafted Zimmerman with the fourth overall pick out of the University of Virginia. He has since become everything they could have hoped for: an all-star third baseman with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, charitable and controversy-free off the field, the face of the franchise in every way.
“He’s been the face of the franchise since day one,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “If anybody deserves it, he deserves it.”
Zimmerman, 27, ensured he will play for the forseeable future in Washington, a short drive from his hometown of Virginia Beach, where his family still lives and his mother faces multiple sclerosis, the disease Zimmerman founded his charity to fight.
Zimmerman made his Nationals debut at 20, in September of 2005. None of the other players in uniform that day remain with the Nationals. They have moved out of creaky RFK Stadium and into plush Nationals Park. Major League Baseball has since sold the team to the Lerner family. The structure and personnel of the front office has been overhauled.
“The only thing hasn’t changed is Zim,” starting pitcher John Lannan, the second-longest tenured National behind Zimmerman said. “You kind of get a sense of what a player means to a place.”
Zimmerman’s agent and the Nationals began discussing broad parameters of a deal more than a year ago, with more progress coming this winter. The Nationals learned the cost it would take to sign Zimmerman in January. From then on, the sides needed to overcome a few major obstacles, most notably Zimmerman’s no-trade protection.
“The important part of me signing this deal is to be here, not to sign a deal that’s team-friendly to have it with another team,” Zimmerman said Friday. “That’s the whole point of doing it.”
Zimmerman had established the Saturday morning deadline to prevent his contract situation from becoming a constant clubhouse topic. Had the sides not agreed by 10 a.m. Saturday, the start of the Nationals’ first full-squad spring training workout, Zimmerman would have tabled discussions until the offseason.
Waiting would have created a murky future for the Nationals’ best player. It would have added pressure to finish a deal next winter, as Zimmerman has stated he planned to test free agency if not extended by the start of the 2013 season. It would also have raised the possibility, highly doubtful, of the Nationals considering a trade of their best player.
Now, neither the Nationals nor Zimmerman need worry about any of that. Zimmerman chose to enter negotiations for his long-term extension after his worst season since 2008, knowing he would exchange his maximum market value for security. Zimmerman missed 60 games last year after he underwent abdominal surgery. He hit .289/.355/.443 with 12 home runs and 49 RBIs.
The extension allows the Nationals to turn their focus, in the future, to keeping the rest of their young core in Washington, players like Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and Desmond.
Only eight players in baseball are guaranteed to make more than Zimmerman’s $126 million guaranteed from 2012 on. His contract also makes him the second-highest paid third baseman in major league history, behind Alex Rodriguez.
Zimmerman became the sixth major leaguer to become signed through the 2019 season, joining Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels), Prince Fielder (Detroit Tigers), Matt Kemp (Los Angeles Dodgers), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers) and Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies).